A Stiffnecked People, Etc.
Men hardened their necks against the yoke of God, which is described by Jesus Christ in Matthew 11:29, Matthew 11:30. Those who thus harden their necks shall be destroyed; that is to say, shall be shattered or dashed to pieces like a potter"s vessel that cannot be put together again. This shattering shall be final—"without remedy." Nothing more can be done for the man than has been done by the process of frequent and affectionate reproof. By "reproof" we are to understand warning, expostulation, remonstrance, a process of pointing out to men the consequence of the actions which they are performing so heedlessly. In ancient times the Lord said, "I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people." We read of the children of Israel that they continually hardened themselves against their Maker, yea, and defied him as if it were to his face. "They mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people, till there was no remedy." It is complained again that "they obeyed not, neither inclined their ear, but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear, nor receive instruction." We have the same term used in the New Testament; for example, by Stephen when he exclaimed, "Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye." We cannot safely dispense with the element of warning in any great process of human education. The warning voice may indeed be despised as the voice of croaking and complaining; it may be charged as being wanting in encouragement and stimulus, but in reality the warning voice is only such that it may become a voice of encouragement. It is no pleasure to the apostle to warn or threaten or denounce. But he is bound to do this, because he is appointed of God as a watchman, and the blood of the people will be required at the watchman"s hand, if so be he has fallen asleep or has been unfaithful to his vocation. God will take away the heavy yoke when we have taken away hardness of heart from before him. Ere our first tear has fully fallen God will relieve us from the charge of the heavy yoke. "Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off." Prestige, ancestry, old and established advantages shall go for nothing in the day of the divine wrath, when God comes to judge those who have scorned his counsel and rejected his messengers.
"When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn" ( Proverbs 29:2).
So the voice of the people is here the voice of God. There is a spirit in Prayer of Manasseh, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding. Righteousness in authority is no mere or barren sentiment; it is a tree most fruitful in happy consequences. Everybody knows when the government is in the hands of wicked men, for a blight seems to fall upon society, and all things young and lovely and musical flee away as from a threatening shadow. Men cannot govern in wickedness and yet have a really happy nation. When righteousness is at the head of things, all the flowing streams carry health and pleasure whithersoever they go. "Righteousness exalteth a nation." Throughout the whole scope of human history, the same sacred and solemn testimony is borne. "When it goeth well with the righteous, the city rejoiceth: and when the wicked perish, there is shouting." Men have confidence in legitimate enterprise and speculation when virtue is at the head of affairs: let an honest nation propose a loan, and instantly the whole world is eager to take it up, not because the interest is great, or the promises are splendid, but because whatever is offered will certainly be forthcoming with punctuality and exactness. When wicked men perish there is indeed shouting, the shouting of joy and gratitude, as there would be when a poison-tree is cut down, or as when a beast of prey is slain, or as when a great danger is averted. "When righteous men do rejoice, there is great glory: but when the wicked rise, a man is hidden.... When the wicked rise, men hide themselves: but when they perish, the righteous increase." Illustrations of the rule of wickedness and the rule of righteousness will be found in the Book of Esther:—"Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in royal apparel of blue and white, and with a great crown of gold, and with a garment of fine linen and purple"; "The city of Shushan rejoiced and was glad"; "But when the king and Haman sat down to drink, the city Shushan was perplexed." If, therefore, only for economical reasons, men should always vote for any government that best represents the most virtuous sentiments of the nation. Do not trust to brilliant statesmanship, but to brilliant character. Where the one cannot be had except at the expense of the other, let us make a point of electing to stand by integrity, uprightness, solid and unselfish patriotism. The nation does not want brilliant wickedness; better infinitely that it should have conscience, righteousness, fearless integrity. What is true of the nation is true of the family; what is true of the family is true of the individual man. Let your character be strong, large, generous; if possible, cultivate your mind to a corresponding degree of enlargement, but if the one must suffer neglect, see to it that you do not neglect the culture of your moral affections and sentiments. Why? Not only because of what these affections and sentiments are in themselves, but because, as we have already said, it is impossible to cultivate with pious industry the moral nature without at the same time attending with carefulness to the excitement and satisfaction of the intellectual faculties. It Isaiah, alas! possible to be very careful about intellectual culture and to be wholly indifferent to moral development; but it Isaiah, happily, impossible to be anxious about moral development and to be indifferent to intellectual expansion and culture. Therefore for every reason let men be anxious about their moral education, for in the end there shall arise from such attentiveness great results of a personal, social, political, and intellectual kind.
"If a wise man contendeth with a foolish Prayer of Manasseh, whether he rage or laugh, there is no rest" ( Proverbs 29:9).
Wise men should therefore leave the strife before it is begun. Whether the wise man treat the fool with haughty disdain, or with good nature, the result will be the same, that is to say, the fool will not cease from his strife or folly. Everything is thrown away upon the fool. Possibly the sense may be that the fool himself rages and laughs: it is impossible for him to listen judicially to any arguments that may be offered: he laughs without reason and he denounces without reason; his laughter is madness: in short, he is a fool, a dull stupid person, headstrong in his own way, lying quite beyond the line of reasoning or persuasion. Always let a fool alone.
"The poor and the deceitful man meet together: the Lord lighteneth both their eyes" ( Proverbs 29:13).
The rich and the poor meet together, but the Lord is the maker of them both. We see the Lord both in men and in their circumstances. It is practical atheism to regard God as the Creator of the man and as having nothing to do with the man"s surroundings. "The Lord lighteneth both their eyes," that is to say, each of them, whether rich or poor, oppressor or oppressed, owes his life to the living God, and from that living God each shall receive due judgment in the end. Whatever may be said of the circumstances of each as to their origin or explanation, it is certain that the life of each is derived from heaven, and an account of it is due to the divine Giver.
"Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he" ( Proverbs 29:18)>.
By "vision" understand revelation. Where the connection between the natural and the supernatural is cut off, destruction is the necessary consequence. The word "perish," however, does not etymologically in this case mean destruction; a more literal rendering would be: Where there is no revelation the people run wild; that is to say, each man is a law unto himself; individual conscience is magnified above general sentiment, and being unduly magnified it becomes a source of trouble rather than a symbol of the divine judgment Even conscience may be perverted. When conscience inspires a prejudice the result is mature and mischievous pharisaism. Men must live upon the supernatural because they themselves are more than merely natural: they have aspirations that lift themselves above the heavens; they have stirrings and impulses of heart which can only be satisfactorily interpreted by religious explanations. The divine vision is given in some sort to every man. Every man"s conscience ought to be accepted as a revelation of God. But here we cannot too frequently insist that conscience itself is exposed to perversion. Saul thought that he was doing good when he was doing evil: he was under the impression that he was obeying God when he was destroying the disciples of Christ. Our personal impressions should be rectified by a profound study of human nature and of human history, and should especially be rectified by lofty and continual communion with heaven.
"A man"s pride shall bring him low: but honour shall uphold the humble in spirit" ( Proverbs 29:23).
The lowly in spirit shall lay hold upon honour. "He that exalteth himself shall be abased." Continually is pride brought to the dust. Unless men really understand the measure of their strength, and the number of their days, they will become the victims of false impression, and will addict themselves to mischievous pursuits. The Psalmist seemed to grasp the occasion when he said, "Behold, thou hast made my days as an hand-breadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity." The Lord has promised to look with special graciousness towards the man who is poor and of a contrite heart, and who trembles at the divine word. God"s grace is promised for the revival of the spirit of the humble, and the sustenance of the heart of the contrite ones. It is curious to observe how some men are soon brought to destruction by an improvement in their circumstances. They have not moral ballast enough to enable them to bear with dignity continual accession of fortune; they miscalculate; they suppose that their riches will abide for ever; they think that he who is rich is strong; out of all these sophisms there comes moral looseness, and from moral looseness there soon comes a general overthrow of the spirit and even of the surrounding circumstances. Sad it is to observe how good fortune becomes misfortune; the very goodness of God as seen in the bountifulness of his providence is turned to the disadvantage and ruin of the man who does not receive that goodness in the right spirit. Be sure that God who made us knows how much honour or wealth we can sustain; when he draws the line and says, "Hitherto shall fortune come, and no farther," he knows that any addition to what we already possess would destroy our equilibrium, and cause us, it may be, to plunge into some infinite chasm. What have we that we have not received? If we have genius, the light is not of our own kindling; if we have great practical power, we hold it as a trust; if we have wealth, we should remember the words, "The Lord thy God giveth thee power to get wealth." Humility is the salvation of character. Humility, however, cannot be put on; it cannot be arranged for, or be made matter of calculation, as who should say, See how I succeeded in humbling myself, or in clothing myself with the beautiful garments of modesty. Humility is the result of divine action in the soul. To have seen God is to have been cleansed from all vanity; to have been near the king is to turn our eyes with contempt upon all the circumstance and fading glory of this transient world.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Proverbs 29". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://pro.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34